A friend once told me, “There is no crystal staircase for Black women.” Nse was right and I have found this to be especially true for queer Black women. Accustomed to overcoming obstacles and hardship in everyday life, we see that Black women, especially queer Black women, are willing to lead on pressing issues where others are unwilling to go or even follow. To see this, just look at the original organizers of Black Lives Matter. Queer Black women live at the intersection of some of the most marginalized identities in our society, and we know that we must win on our issues for survival, for our families, for Us. It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.
I am a bi-sexual Black woman. You can see the influence of the intersectionality of my identities throughout my policy making and priorities serving in the Georgia Legislature. I am the first bi-sexual person ever to serve in the Georgia State House or Senate and I just finished my first term. In my first term, I quickly learned that every time I entered the Georgia State Capitol I would have to defend all of my natural identities at any given moment and usually simultaneously. Seeing how quickly parts of my identity could be marginalized through bad policy makes me reach to protect the most vulnerable Georgians in my decision making.
Living at the intersection of all of these identities meant that in my first year serving I had to give a floor speech to educate my colleagues in the Georgia House of Representatives on how passing bad “Back the Badge/Blue Lives Matter Bills” would have unintended consequences in the Black community and about the long history of police brutality and excessive force often resulting in death in our communities. Next up was finding a way to chip away at the school to prison pipeline in Georgia. Recognizing that young Black girls who are gender non conforming and experience same-sex attraction, face disproportionate levels of discipline at school which directly contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline, led me to cosponsor and help pass House Bill 740. House Bill 740 works to eliminate kids being arbitrarily suspended and instead to offer them support and resources. The bill passed and will take effect in July of this year. HB740 was a win but simultaneously this year, LGBTQ Georgians were under attack over adoption rights. Georgia has one of the highest rates of kids sitting in foster care in the United States, yet our majority Republican led Senate felt that it was in the best interest of these kids to further restrict who can adopt by allowing agencies to refuse to allow LGBTQ Georgians to adopt. It took all 4 of the openly LGBTQ Representatives currently serving plus our allies to make sure this bill never made it to the House floor.
I also understand that the needs of Black women are broad and deep when it comes to reproductive freedom, which is why I talk publicly about my own personal abortion story through a framework of economic and reproductive justice. Black women are still over-represented in the low wage workforce of jobs that pay less than $11 per hour — filling a vital role for the economy without ample pay. Income should not strip us of the right to plan when to start families. That's why this year when the Georgia House and Senate tried to pass two bills intended to diminish abortion access for women in Georgia, I knew I had to activate to advocate against them - neither of them passed. Living at the intersection of all these identities informs my policy decision making and it powers my fight to capture the resources black women need. Women dying during childbirth is an issue that largely disproportionately impacts Black women in this country, yet has rarely been talked about as a priority issue to combat by legislatures across this country. I am proud to have been apart a joint effort this year to put $2 million dollars in the Georgia budget to begin to combat maternal mortality.
There’s a never ending debate about identity politics and the need for a more representative government of what America actually looks like. I find that those who have historically been our only choices on the ballot and have been continuously over-represented in government, are the same people who discount the value in voters wanting to elect someone who understands their life experience and have personally lived it. What I know for sure is that when we take care of the priorities of the most marginalized in our society everyone benefits.
Honorable Renitta Shannon is the Georgia State Representative for District 84.